The Environmental Protection Authority has approved an application from Daisy Lab to scale up its work on “precision fermentation.” AgResearch senior research scientist Scott Knowles gave his reaction to the decision, as follows: 

The EPA decision(external link) allows substantial scale-up of precision fermentation methods that use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The yeasts being cultivated are common, low-risk organisms with a long history in research, and all proposed work remains confined within certified laboratories.

This is a welcome advance in capability that will grow our understanding of the opportunities with this technology in a New Zealand context. It adds to research that is already being carried out safely and securely with GMOs in facilities around the country.

Interest and investment in precision fermentation is strong, but the industry is still in start-up phase. Local and international enterprises struggle with building manufacturing capacity and sourcing sustainable feedstocks for their microorganisms. In most cases the harvested ingredients are copies of familiar animal-derived proteins, with the aim of offering direct substitution in processed foods.

Environmental impacts may be less without animals, but issues such as total energy consumption still need to be considered. Thus far, contribution to the world’s food supply from precision fermentation is tiny.

There is exciting potential for these new generation methods to enrich and diversify food production in New Zealand. There is a risk to traditional agriculture if some of the products sidestep the farm and are eventually produced in large quantity from the equivalent of stainless-steel cows.

The most likely scenario, however, is not competitive but complementary, integrating our primary and high-technology sectors. An early target for NZ participation in precision fermentation could be making and exporting premium high-value proteins that are scarce in fresh dairy milk and absent in recent market challengers like plant-based milks.

Scientists have a responsibility and commitment to be rigorous in their research of what is possible when it comes to new food innovations. This includes how we continue to produce food that is safe, ethical, nutritious, desired by consumers and beneficial to New Zealand.”

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